By Wendy McElroy
Precedents exist for requiring citizens to produce special ID for domestic travel; they include Nazi Germany, apartheid South Africa and Russia (both Imperial and Soviet).
Over the Christmas season, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) quietly announced that America was walking down that path. By 2016, all domestic air travel will require either a traditional passport or a federally-compliant ID card called “Real ID.” State driver’s licenses will no longer allow Americans access to domestic flights, as they do now. Real ID will constitute an internal passport. (The drop-date date is commonly reported as January.)
An internal passport refers to an identity document that people must produce to move from place to place within national borders. It allows a government to monitor the movement of its own people and to control that movement by granting or denying ID. In the past, governments have used internal passports to isolate ‘undesirables’, to regulate economic opportunities, to reap personal data, to intimidate and command obedience, and to segregate categories of people (like Jews) for political purposes. It allows a government to bind anyone it chooses to his or her place of birth.
The upcoming Real ID requirement targets only air travel. But that’s how it begins – with airports.
After people became numb to years of ID demands, questioning and searches at airports, those tactics spread to train stations and subways. Then highway check-points were established in areas that lay within 100 miles from an “external boundary,” including coasts. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents now have the authority to stop a traveller if they have “reasonable suspicion” of an immigration violation or other crime. Although the agents do not currently have authority to demand ID from American citizens, they often do so.
The ACLU has repeatedly cautioned that “[i]n practice, Border Patrol agents routinely ignore or misunderstand the limits of their legal authority in the course of individual stops, resulting in violations of the constitutional rights of innocent people….These problems are compounded by…the consistent failure of CBP to hold agents accountable for abuse. Thus, although the 100-mile border zone is not literally ‘Constitution free’, the U.S. government frequently acts like it is.”
Recently, highway checkpoints have occurred well outside the 100-mile “exemption” range, with agents demanding to
The total control of movement always begins with airports. Real ID will be reality in the US by the end of the decade and, perhaps, long before. And it is not likely to be limited to air travel.
Real ID Walks In Through A Back Door
Under the Real ID Act of 2005, state driver’s licenses and other ID needed to conform to federal standards. The IDs were to be used for “official purposes” as were defined by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Examples of explicitly defined “purposes” include for entry into federal buildings and for boarding commercial air flights. But the law also provided the DHS with the authority to require Real ID for other undefined purposes, apparently at its discretion.
To be compliant, the state IDs must incorporate specific personal details about each bearer and link that information to a unique identifying number. The minimum information required consists of a front-facing photo that is compatible with facial recognition technology, a full legal name, signature, birth date, gender, and main address. (RFID chips were not mandated but the Act left the future possibility open.)
The issuing state must verify the information and encode it in a machine readable manner such as bar codes. Then, the data must be linked to every other state’s motor vehicle databases. The networking would permit an easy data-merge with federal databases such as the FBI’s Next Generation Identification system. The latter is a national facial recognition system, which serves other functions as well.
The Real ID Act experienced a huge backlash from privacy and fourth amendment advocates, as well as from states’ rights ones. The states themselves rebelled because the federal government hoisted the cost of implementing the program onto their shoulders. Some states – for example, Idaho, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Maine – flatly refused to comply. DHS estimates that somewhere between 20-30% of Americans live in non-compliant areas. This means the states have to scramble to abide by federal standards by 2016. The Real ID will have a white star inside a gold circle in the upper right corner to indicate that the data has been verified.
The verification process is not a simple one for the state or for the individual. The Marietta Daily Journal (Oct. 23,2012) reported, “[M]any drivers in Georgia were surprised when they attempted to renew their driver’s licenses. What was a quick point and click online is no longer. Federal requirements for the Real ID Act, now require drivers to visit a Department of Driver Services office if they don’t already have DDS secure license marked by a white star in a field of gold in the upper right corner of the license.
“Many Georgians haven’t renewed their licenses in many years, so naturally, they were caught by surprise when they had to produce, in person, proof of identity, Social Security card and proof of residence. But there is more. You have to prove your citizenship as well. How? According to the DDS, either with a ‘valid, unexpired U.S. passport’, an original or certified copy of a U.S. birth certificate/amended birth certificate filed with the State Office of Vital Statistics. Birth certificates issued by hospitals ‘are not acceptable’.”
This is nothing less than the federalization and standardization of all identifying documents throughout the United States. Those who are unable to document such niceties as their existence (that is, their birth) will become second class citizens. They will be unable to fly and excluded from entering into federal buildings, which may be necessary for them to obtain government permissions or fulfil legal requirements. Joining the ranks of the second-class will be the holders non-compliant licenses; these lack a white star and are stamped “Not for Federal Official Use” instead. “Not for Federal Official Use” holders will need a traditional passport or to apply for alternate DHS documentation if they wish to fly.
What To Expect
Many states and, so, many individuals will not make TSA’s January 2016 deadline for Real ID. Some hope the humanitarian TSA will push back the deadline as it did last year. And a delay may happen…for logistical reasons. If it does, those who wish to escape a nation with internal passports may have another year to do so.
But the main hope of delaying Real ID is a confrontation between the federal and state governments. In 2012, the governor of Montana declared,
“Montana will not agree to share its citizens’ personal and private information through a national database, nor bear the exorbitant cost [of] building such a database. Furthermore, the Act tramples on our state’s right to determine our own licensing procedures and protocols, and would interfere with our state’s work to improve drivers’ license security. Montana is in no mood at all for another heavy-handed play by the federal government, such as what transpired in 2008 when the homeland security director threatened to prevent Montanans from boarding an airplane unless we complied with the REAL ID act. We refused, and will refuse again.”
Brave words. But Real ID is coming. When it arrives with both feet, Real ID will make it much more difficult for freedom-loving people to avoid the federal behemoth. Of course, that is its purpose. FATCA and related global measures gave the feds access to every cent that any American possessed in the world. Now Real ID wants to ensure that no American can avoid federal detection within domestic borders.